Category Archives: Campaign finance

A Whole Lotta Scofflaws in High Places

Running update: Sen. Brian Campion, named below as having failed to file, did actually file. Four other lawmakers — Sen. Phil Baruth and Reps. Martin Lalonde, Emily Long and Seth Chase — say they zeroed out their accounts after the 2020 election and have neither raised nor spent more than $500 since, so they don’t have to file.

Updated update. I haven’t heard from any more lawmakers (so far), but I’ve written a second post explaining this exemption in more detail.

Well, if Jim Condos won’t do it, and Sarah Mearhoff won’t do it, I guess I have to.

Allow me to explain.

Last Friday, VTDigger’s always informative Final Reading kicked off with an item about lawmakers failing to abide by the law. Specifically, dozens of them have yet to file campaign finance reports that were due on March 15. Secretary of State Condos sent an email to lawmakers asking that they comply but refused to identify the scofflaws, saying “I can’t be their babysitter,” which kind of implies that they need one. Reporter Mearhoff also demurred from naming names, but teasingly said “I know who you are.”

Gee, and here I thought it was a reporter’s job to tell us what they know. Maybe space reasons? After all, the list of noncompliers is 69 names long. That’s almost 40% of the 180 “public servants” in the Legislature. Forty percent.

Mearhoff also reminded us that when the Legislature wrote the law, it refused to include any penalties for failing to file. That’s pretty standard fare for laws touching on their own interests; lawmakers jealously guard their privileges when it comes to campaign finance and ethics and reapportionment and such. Which leaves us with the plastic épée of public shaming, which rarely manages to penetrate a lawmaker’s skin.

Before I get to naming names, I should say that any mistakes are my responsibility and I will gladly make corrections if any of those listed below can show that they did, in fact, file as required by law. Also, this list was made on the morning of April 5; any reports filed after that are not reflected below.

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Big Money in the Democratic LG Race (And Other Campaign Finance Notes)

The big takeaway from the first campaign finance deadline of 2022 (for state candidates only, not federal) is that the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor is going to be a heated affair. All four candidates raised respectable amounts of money, with a couple of them clearly rising to the top.

Disclaimer: Fundraising is not the only measure of a campaign’s health. Organization and grassroots appeal are also key, but it’s very hard to measure those and very simple to read financial filings, So we look for the missing keys under the streetlight where we can see.

Leading the pack is former state Rep. Kitty Toll, widely believed to be the choice of most party regulars. She raised $118,000, which is quite a lot for this early in an LG race. She had 323 separate donors, 227 of them giving less than $100 apiece.

Coming in a sollid second is former LG David Zuckerman, with $92,000. Patricia Preston, head of the Vermont Council on World Affairs, raised $89,000 with a big fat asterisk: $23,000 of her total came from in-kind donations. That’s a very high total, and it means she has far less cash on hand than it appears at first glance. Rep. Charlie Kimbell is a distant fourth with $44,000 raised.

You want deets? We got deets.

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Something Stupid This Way Comes

Yep, it’s time again for another round of The Veepies, our awards for stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sphere. Got a lovely crop of stupid on offer.

First, we have the It Worked So Splendidly Last Time, Let’s Run It Back Again Award, which goes to the folks responsible for exhuming the cold, rotting carcass of the Sanders Institute. Yep, the Sanders clan’s vanity project think tank is once again open for business, thanks to a big fat chunk o’change from… wait for it… the Bernie Sanders campaign! Gotta do something with all those $27 gifts they couldn’t manage to spend during the actual election season.

For those just joining us, the Sanders Institute was founded in 2016 by Jane Sanders and her son David Driscoll, who — mirabile dictu — emerged from what I’m sure was an exhaustive nationwide search to become SI’s executive director. Well, the Institute posted a bunch of essays (mostly recycled from other media) on its website and had one big conference in 2018, but was shut down in May 2019, sez the AP, “amid criticism that the nonprofit has blurred the lines between family, fundraising and campaigning.” Ya think?

There are a few differences between the original and SI 2.0. Sanders comms guy Mike Cesca told VPR that none of the campaign’s money would go toward pay or bennies for Sanders family members. Which is kind of an admission that they screwed up the first time.

Also, two different spokespeople made reference to “the transition” from winning votes to educating people, which makes you think he’s not running for president again, and makes you wonder whether he’ll run for another Senate term in 2024. The new Institute will also include an archive of Sanders and his family… hmm, sounds like a think tank vanity project.

After the jump: A daycare misfire, a self-inflicted social media disappearance, and incompetent fiber installers.

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A Republican Lawmaker Hops On Board the Klar Klan Kruiser

The wonderful folks who brought you the CovidCruiser bus to the January 6 insurrection are back in business, baby! Now it’s the KKK Traveling Road Show, featuring a select group of speakers who are convinced that Critical Race Theory is the worst thing since, I dunno, Sputnik?

No, Burisma. Let’s go with Burisma.

The Klar Klan Kruiser is the brainchild of Gregory Thayer, a Rutland accountant and QAnon-adjacent conspiratorialist. It’s making stops tonight (Wednesday 7/14) in Barre and Friday in St. Albans. In each venue, a series of speakers will rant and rave about CRT for what’s likely to be a small audience of like-minded folks.

So who’s on the guest list for tonight? Well, Thayer himself, former gubernatorial candidate John Klar, Our Lady of the CovidCruiser Ellie Martin, “Former Educators” Martha Hafner and Alice Flanders, and first-term Rep. Samantha Lefebvre (R-Orange).

The latter is the subject of this post.

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10/15 Campaign Finance Filings: Same Old Song (UPDATED)

Nothing in this column bears illustration, so let’s go with some clickbait.

In case you were wondering why all the commotion last night — the rowdy partying, the fireworks, the parades, the desperate closing-time hookups — well, the mid-October campaign finance reports are in.

Yippee!

There’s nothing that changes the complexion of the Vermont political season, but there are a lot of fascinating details. Let’s get started!

The Governor is in cruise control. Phil Scott’s campaign didn’t even break a sweat in the first half of October. He pulled in $41K, bringing his campaign total to a measly $376K. (For those just joining us, conventional wisdom has it that you need at least seven figures to seriously compete, and $2 million is a better starting point.) What’s really telling, though, is that he only spent $14K in the past two weeks. He did a bunch of small newspaper ad buys and no TV. He didn’t pay a dime to his big national campaign outfit, Optimus Consulting. He has over $100,000 in the bank, and shows no sign of making a serious dent in it.

Zuckerman fights the good fight. The Democratic/Progressive nominee is a spider monkey battling a gorilla: Impressively crafty, but likely to get squashed. Zuckerman raised a healthy $62K in the two weeks since October 1, for a campaign total of $629K. And there’s the problem: it’s really not enough money to fuel a statewide campaign against an entrenched incumbent.

If you look at his donor list, you see where his problem lies. He’s getting a ton of small gifts, but the Democratic power players are sitting it out.

Look at these numbers. Scott has 1,141 unique donors, and has taken in 768 “small” donations of $100 or less. Zuckerman has 5,234 donors, and has accepted 6,055 donations of $100 or less. (The latter number is higher because many of his donors have made multiple gifts.)

Even with Scott’s late entry into active campaigning because of the coronavirus, those are some telling numbers. Despite his broad popularity, Scott doesn’t have people lining up to give him money. Zuckerman has a much larger base of enthusiastic donors.

But his problem is, he isn’t getting the big money to augment the small fry. The state’s two largest public sector unions wrote big checks to Beth Pearce, Doug Hoffer, Jim Condos and TJ Donovan — but nothing, as far as I can tell, for Zuckerman.

Meanwhile, Democratic megadonor Jane Stetson donated $500 to Zuckerman’s campaign. That’s a buck in the tip jar for Stetson. If she was committed, she and her husband WIlliam would have each kicked in the maximum $4,160.

That’s only one data point, but it illustrates the disconnect between Zuckerman and the Democratic moneybags. He also, apparently, hasn’t received any money from Vermont’s Congressional delegation. (Bernie has done his bit for Zuckerman on the intangible front, but no direct contributions.)

Zuckerman has received a healthy $13,000 from the Vermont Progressive Party, which makes the absence of Democratic cash all the more glaring. And he’s given $22K to his own campaign. He’s needed every dime.

Still to come: The LG race and the PACs, including a surprise entry for most impactful PAC of the cycle.

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Why Are Liberal PACs Giving Thousands to Beth Pearce?

Nothing against our incumbent state treasurer, but she’s sailing to re-election and a bunch of liberal PACs have just made big donations to her campaign. Sure, reward a faithful officeholder and all that, but she doesn’t need the money and she’s not spending the money.

Look: Her Republican opponent, Carolyn Branagan, has filed her October 15 campaign finance report — and it shows no activity whatsoever since the previous reporting deadline of October 1. No fundraising, no spending, nothing. Before that, Branagan’s campaign had been a low-budget affair largely funded by herself. She’d raised $26,000 including $20,000 from herself, and spent $18,000. Total. On a statewide campaign.

Pearce, meanwhile, had raised $25,000 and spent a little less than 10 grand as of October 1. Her opponent has essentially given up, she drew 68% of the vote in 2018 and hasn’t been seriously challenged since her first run for the office in 2012. If she has a pulse on November 3, she’s gonna win.

During this 15-day reporting period, the VT-NEA Fund for Children and Public Education gave Pearce the maximum $4,160. The VSEA PAC has donated $1,500. VPIRG Votes chipped in $400. And she got $250 apiece from the Professional Firefighters of Vermont and the Vermont Building Trades PAC.

(She’s also received $2,000 from Emily’s List, but those are pass-through contributions from individuals giving to Pearce through the List. No conscious effort on Emily’s part.)

This shouldn’t really bother me, but it does. I mean, why?

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Where’d the Big Money Go?

To paraphrase the great Yogi Berra, it’s getting late early out there. Almost three weeks remain until Election Day, but we’re closing in on 100,000 ballots already cast in Vermont. That’s likely to be between one-third and one-quarter of all the votes. Which means that political spending will be less and less impactful as the ballots keep on rolling in.

So, where’s the big money? It’s absent, for the most part. The next round of campaign finance reports isn’t due until Thursday night, but we’re in the Mass Media reporting window: Within 45 days of an election, any mass media buys over $500 must be reported immediately to the Secretary of State’s office. In recent weeks, there’s little sign of big spends.

This would seem to be terrible news for Scott Milne, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. On September 24, the Republican State Leadership Committee spent $210,000 on TV ads backing Milne. I took it as a sign that national Republicans saw Milne as a credible contender — perhaps even a future successor to Gov. Phil Scott, whenever he rides off into the sunset or Congress, depending.

But the ballots are pouring in, and the RSLC hasn’t spent a dime here in three weeks. Either they have bigger fish to fry, or they’ve decided that Milne is a lost cause.

Despite that poll.

After the jump: a deeper dive into PAC and Super PAC spending. I warned you.

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10/1 Gov Campaign Finance Reports: Spare change

I was going to call this post “Pedal to the Metal,” and on a relative scale that’s true. Both Gov. Phil Scott and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman dramatically picked up the fundraising pace in September. But by historical standards, both campaigns remain at bargain-basement level.

Zuckerman raised $107K in September, by far his best month to date, bringing his campaign total to $567K. He spent even bigger, a total of $141K in the month. By my calculation, he entered October with about $60K on hand (I’ve seen other figures in other reports, and I don’t know how they arrived at their numbers. I subtracted intake versus outflow.) Zuckerman also has $27K in the bank from past campaigns.

Scott raised $200K in September, bringing his campaign total to a measly $335K. He spent much of this year in a self-imposed campaign quarantine, as he devoted his efforts to the Covid-19 pandemic. September was the first month he took fundraising seriously, and he got decent if not spectacular returns. He didn’t spend all that much in September, so his cash on hand (again, other reports differ) is about $75K. He also has a $106K surplus from past campaigns.

Neither candidate entered October with significant wiggle room. Both will need to step up their fundraising pace if they want to boost their advertising and ground games down the home stretch.

And don’t forget that the Republican Governors Association is still lurking about. They could still pump in a flood of cash to back Scott, as they did in 2016 and 2018.

After the jump: Sources, spends, and recent history.

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National Conservatives Bet Big on Scott Milne

Molly Gray is on notice: If she wants to be lieutenant governor, she’s gonna have to fight for it.

First came Scott Milne’s roundhouse attacks in Thursday’s VTDigger debate (more on that in a separate post). Now comes a big-money investment in Milne from the D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee.

National Republicans have yet to throw any real money at Gov. Phil Scott, presumably because they are convinced he doesn’t need it. But clearly they see an opportunity to take the Lite-Guvship and position Milne as Scott’s successor.

RSLC Vermont, an independent political action committee, has reported a mass media buy totaling $209,500, the bulk of it on a TV ad blitz in support of Milne. Yep, in a single shot, the big boys put down as much cash as an entire LG campaign used to cost.

So much for Gray’s financial advantage over Milne. And this was a single expenditure; there’s a virtually unlimited supply of cash where that came from. For these folks, $200,000 is pocket change.

The RSLC is a key component of the conservative effort to buy American politics lock, stock and Supreme Court. Atop its list of donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, is the Judicial Crisis Network, the far-right organization spearheading the drive to install conservative-minded judges and, ahem, Supreme Court Justices. Other big-dollar RSLC backers include the US Chamber of Commerce, tobacco giant Altria Group, Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the Republican Governors Association, PhRMA, Amway, Koch Industries, and good old Blue Cross-Blue Shield. (Aww, and Big Blue always sounds so kind and community-spirited in its ad campaigns.)

Yeah, the same people who fueled the rise of Donald Trump, Scott Walker and Ted Cruz, and are doing their best to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a Brett Kavanagh thinkalike, are here in Vermont promoting the putative moderate Scott Milne.

But hey, RSLC Vermont is an independent PAC with no connection to the Milne campaign, so he has plausible deniability — just like Phil Scott, whose rise to the governorship has been fueled by outside conservative interests. In both 2016 and 2018, the Republican Governors Association spent far more on Scott than did the candidate himself.

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Aside From the Pandemic, It’s a Great Time to be Phil Scott

The last pre-primary campaign finance reports are in, and the big winner is… yep… Your Governor, Phil Scott.

Not that he raised much money. In fact, he raised so little that it’s clear he feels no urgency whatsoever. (Of course, he’s spending minimal time campaigning as long as the pandemic still hovers, but c’mon, if he had to raise money he’d find ways to do it.)

The latest fundraising reports cover the month of July, basically. During that time, Scott raised a mere $19,000 — bringing his campaign total to $99,000. (Numbers of more than four figures are rounded to the nearest thousand.) Even more telling is how much money he spent: A measly $1,133 for the entire month.

(Interesting entry in Scott’s “Expenses” column: $218.44 in fees to ActBlue. Which means the Democrats’ number-one online fundraising tool is serving as a conduit for Phil Scott?)

Scott is not afraid of John Klar. He’s not afraid of Rebecca Holcombe or David Zuckerman. He’s not afraid, period.

The other gubernatorial reports reinforce Scott’s apparent bulletproofness. Whoever wins the Democratic primary is going to emerge with little or no money in the bank, and the national Democratic donors aren’t coming to the rescue.

After the jump: The Dems’ respective hauls and the race for Lite-Guv.

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